Barack Obama scored one of the most important endorsements of the 2008 season. Rumors were circulating for a few days and they are now confirmed. Contrary to the expectation that he would remain neutral in this year's race, Ted Kennedy has decided to endorse Barack Obama and plans to appear alongside the candidate tomorrow in DC. This is a particularly damaging blow to Hillary Clinton who has a close relationship with Kennedy. She lobbied intensely to get Kennedy's support and, in the past few days, to convince him to stay out of the race.
Ted Kennedy is one of the only politicians whose endorsement can actually matter. In 2004, Kennedy backed John Kerry and stumped for him for weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire; many credit him for single-handedly saving the sinking Kerry campaign. His immense popularity among the base and his last name make him a revered figure in the party, and his support compliments Obama's coalition admirably at the most critical time possible.
Obama is strong among upper-income well-educated voters and has had trouble contesting the vote of the working-class and lower-income voters. Ted Kennedy is most popular precisely among the group Obama is the weakest in and any improvement there would be huge on Super Tuesday. Similarly, Obama can use the support of one of the most committed advocates of comprehensive immigration reform to make inroads among Latino voters.
Starting today, the Democratic campaign is going national. 22 states are voting on February 5th, and there is no more time for retail politics and winning votes in town hall events. The campaigns will run on ads, mailings and they will target specific congressional districts -- not even entire states. There are 8 more news cycles before Super Tuesday, and every one of them counts. What is important is to earn media and positive coverage. And the Kennedy endorsement will give Obama a lot of buzz in the coming days and will allow him to dominate the news cycle for a few more days -- at least until the Florida results come out. Not to mention that Massachusetts is voting on February 5th and Kennedy can definitely help Obama rise in his home state.
Overall, Kennedy's sudden decision to jump in the 2008 race confirms that things are moving in Obama's direction. He is getting voters to pay attention to him and is accumulating high-profile endorsements. The question now is whether 8 days is enough time for him to catch up with Clinton in states like California and Missouri where he still looks to be trailing. Expect the Obama campaign to concentrate on a few regions of California and New York rather than contest the whole states since February 5th will be as much a fight for delegates than a battle to win states.
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